Some year, huh?
2017 was a fairly tumultuous year for the videogame industry. The predatory nature of loot boxes became a legitimate mainstream political issue, proving once again that the economics of the videogame industry make no sense and basically nuking the launch of what EA assumed would be a best-selling Star Wars game. In news directly related to that, the supposed death of single-player games was widely editorialized throughout the industry, after EA shut down Visceral Games (who were working on a heavily anticipated single-player Star Wars adventure) and games like Prey and Dishonored: Death of the Outsider underperformed. Studios continued to be shut down left and right, from Visceral to Runic to Gazillion. The game industry news was constant, and often very bad.
At least the games were often very good. And the best line-up of the year came on a Nintendo system. The Nintendo Switch launched in March and immediately became a massive success on the back of the fantastic Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild and the novelty of the system’s home and handheld duality. 2017 was truly Nintendo’s year, as you’ll see as you look over the list below. Not only did the Switch see better third-party support than the Wii U did in practically its entire lifespan, but Nintendo put all of its design resources behind the launch, putting out not just a new Zelda but a new core Mario game in the same year for the first time ever. And they weren’t just new—they were both one of the best games ever in those two legendary series.
Where did Super Mario Odyssey and Breath of the Wild fall on our list of the best games of the year, though? Read on to find out.
Platforms: Switch, PlayStation 4, PC, Mac
Tumbleseed is all about patience. Predicting the trajectory of the seed and adjusting the angle of the bar requires quick thinking, and steady fingers. The levels change every time the player restarts, and thus the layout cannot be memorized. They can only anticipate what types of enemies and obstacles may lay ahead based on the environment they’re playing in. The mountain has four separate ecosystems as the seed travels upward, and they offer a change of atmospheric pace as the game progresses. At a distance, the limited number of areas would suggest the game is short, but with the repetition the game’s difficulty demands, they’re actually quite long.—Holly Green
29. Torment: Tides of Numenera
Platforms: PC, Xbox One, PlayStation 4, Mac, Linux
It is both a good thing and a bad thing that Torment: Tides of Numenera is novel-like in its ambitions and scope. It’s good in that I can say that the grand narrative payoff for the game is exquisite. It’s bad in that I cannot even give you one single plot point, because if I did I think it would ruin it. I would strongly suggest that you don’t read anything about the game’s story going in. Instead, just pay attention to what everyone tells you, and eventually you get to see these micro and macro story threads build up into a beautiful latticework of narrative. It really is wonderful.—Cameron Kunzelman
Platforms: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC
By the end of 2017 videogame publishers tried to convince the world that single-player games were dead. (Just google “single-player games are dead” and gaze upon the thousands of links to editorials from every videogame site ever for some background.) Prey may not have been a smash hit on the sales chart, but it’s another deeply satisfying, intellectually stimulating adventure from Arkane Studios, the designers that brought us Dishonored (whose spin-off title, Death of the Outsider, also almost made this list). It follows in the tradition of games from Looking Glass and Irrational, games like System Shock 2 and Bioshock that use the interactivity of the form to present questions and choices that try to dig a little bit deeper than simply shooting everything that moves. As Paste writers have explored, it winds up as both a surprisingly powerful evocation of mental illness and an important depiction of Asian-American identity in a medium largely devoid of that. Prey might wear its influences a little too brazenly on the sleeve of its spacesuit, but at its best it’s one of the most thoughtful games of the year.—Garrett Martin
27. Wonder Boy: The Dragon’s Trap
Platforms: PC, Switch, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Mac, Linux
In a world of HD rehashing and the seemingly obligatory impulse to re-render old games with the latest in photorealistic graphics tech, it warms my heart to witness the stylistic human touch of Wonder Boy: The Dragon’s Trap. It’s a splendid homage, a playable history exercise, and an unexpected touchpoint for the expressive potential of hand-drawn animation in 2017.—Dan Solberg
26. Injustice 2
Platforms: Xbox One, PlayStation 4
Injustice 2 has this beautiful wax and wane that has the exact same pacing as a comic book. Heroes enter scenes, they have goals, villains enter the scene to prevent them from achieving those goals, and then a fight breaks out. The fight resolves, and the process continues. I don’t think anyone would suggest that this is breaking new barriers of storytelling, and the story and the way it is told is in classic comic form, but it works here. I feel like I am playing a comic book, and there’s very few games in the world that scratch that particular itch.—Cameron Kunzelman
Arms is more than a game about fighting; it is a reminder of genre’s stagnation. Just like a bicep will atrophy in absence of exercise, so too will a category of game (“one-on-one-fighting game”, for example) become stunted by too many me-too attempts. There is both unlimited room and potential for videogames and yet the market is oversaturated with games that rely on stale conventions. Playing Arms feels both intuitive and strange. Stand in front of your TV with a Joy-con in each hand and you feel more connected to your character than in a typical 2D Street Fight. While Arms presents itself as a fighting game, in a way, it has become a sneaky demonstration of the limitations of the genre’s defining features.—Jon Irwin
24. Resident Evil 7
Platforms: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC
I enjoy a good horror game, and I’ve played through lots of horror titles in a variety of different genres. Nothing has bothered me as much as Resident Evil 7. There is something in the game’s specific combination of ambient sounds, level design, lack of soundtrack, and camera acceleration speed that ended up ticking all of the boxes for making me feel profoundly and disturbingly anxious while playing the game …Resident Evil 7 is so anxiety-inducing, I had to get someone to come play it with me. And I’m glad I did, because the game is probably best experienced in pairs. Its story is told in fits and starts, providing several opportunities to theorize about what is actually going on. Being a first-person horror game, there’s a lot of time spent avoiding enemies and slowly creeping down hallways, and we spent a lot of that time between story beats hollering about what the game’s story was even about at that point in time.—Cameron Kunzelman
23. Splatoon 2
Some have dinged this one a bit (including our own review) for sticking too closely to the formula established by the Wii U original. It’s true that, at first, it can feel more like a remake than a sequel. In time though its unique attributes become more apparent, from the variety of weapons, to the new maps, to the various multiplayer modes that supplement the standard Turf War. Splatoon 2 might not break a lot of ground but it’s one of the most purely fun games to come out for any system this year.—Garrett Martin
22. Uncharted: The Lost Legacy
Platform: PlayStation 4
The Lost Legacy isn’t the best Uncharted since Uncharted 2 (and the second best overall) just because it replaces the increasingly annoying Nathan Drake with two strong women of color who don’t maintain a constant stream of sitcom-level chatter. That certainly doesn’t hurt, though. The game takes its subtitle seriously. Yeah, it’s another would-be action film full of bullets and improbable parkour, but it has greater depth because it explores the lives of its co-leads, Chloe Frazer and Nadine Ross, and shows how they’re both grappling with the legacies of their fathers and the decisions of their youth. By shifting the focus to these two characters the Uncharted series has struck a narrative vein richer than anything it’s explored in the past.—Garrett Martin
21. Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle
What originally felt like an ungainly mash-up between two properties that share almost no common ground unexpectedly turned into one of the biggest gaming surprises of the year. The Mario imagery and Rabbid humor is almost beside the point: this game works so well because it’s a smartly built and balanced tactical RPG that innovates on genre convention through its liberal approach to movement. If you like Final Fantasy Tactics and XCOM but wish you could move farther and faster across their grids, with multiple different ways to accomplish that, you should check out Mario + Rabbids. It’s a colorful strategy game that looks and feels like nothing else out there.—Garrett Martin